Gardening & Giving Back: UCSD Alumni Day of Service

When students from Oneonta Elementary School returned to school on Monday morning, they were in awe over what they found—new butterfly and vegetable gardens, and a colorful U.S. map painted on their playground. Over the weekend, more than 130 volunteers transformed the school’s outdoor space during the third annual UCSD Alumni Service Day, hosted by Alumni & Community Engagement.

UC San Diego alumni, including Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, ’87, South Bay Unified School District Superintendent Katie McNamara, ’10, and Imperial Beach City Councilman Ed Spriggs, ’70, joined community members and Oneonta staff and students to build wooden planter boxes (from scratch!), and create spaces for play and learning on the playground. The students were clearly impressed, with some saying it was the “sickest landscaping” they had ever seen.

Alumnus and Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, ’87
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, ’87

A vibrant and engaging school environment is just one goal of the Day of Service—ultimately, it is part of the UCSD Alumni San Diego Promise for Education initiative, dedicated to making a difference in local schools.

It was the first Day of Service for Steph Barry, ’94, who recently took the helm of Alumni and Community Engagement. “Whether they were painting or planting, UC San Diego alumni were smiling and happy to be creating and revitalizing something that will positively affect so many young lives,” says Barry. “I really felt a sense of team spirit and pride, and a true dedication to the San Diego educational community.”

It was the second Day of Service for Hanna Choe, ’08, whose idea of service means “being willing to be out there, get my hands a little dirty, if necessary, kneel down, paint…to really contribute to places like this, where children are being taught, and thriving and learning.”

For UC San Diego senior, Esteban Alcala, the Day of Service event held a deeper meaning for him—he attended Oneonta as a child. He’s also a member of Gamma Zeta Alpha, a fraternity founded on principles of community service and Latino culture. “Since I came to UCSD, I’ve been wanting to give back to my community,” he says. “As soon as I heard we were going to Oneonta, it added a personal touch, like I was directly giving back to a place I came from.”

Alcala credits Oneonta teachers for helping him learn English after moving to the U.S. from Mexico. He’s graduating in June, and a conversation with a fellow Triton during the service event showed him that attending UC San Diego gives you more than a diploma—it creates opportunities to share experiences with alumni and make a difference in the community.

Ultimately, the Day of Service isn’t just one day; it’s one of many opportunities for UC San Diego alumni to give back.

Kymberly Nichols, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Oneonta, appreciates the university’s ongoing commitment. “They keep impressing me with how much they care about us.” The long lasting impact of the Day of Service will indeed stretch far beyond a weekend of service.